Imagination and Creation

I read this wonderful quote by Charlie Chaplin today - I am going to use this leniently to keep the creative corner of my mind inspired.

Imagination means nothing without doing.

Such a small bunch of words, but oh-so-meaningful. I also came across this post that I had written exactly a year back on using the time we have at our hands well. Especially on why it is important not to stay focused on the things not done or done but in non-perfect way.

(Time that dawns) with a promise to do so much more than there is time for. Till you realise those 24 hours the day dawned with? They just aren’t enough. Not enough for everything. Barely enough for something.

So you can either spend those fleeting moments on (doing) that something, anything. Or get bogged down with the burden of those others things left untouched. Because there’s just not enough time.

This is a good reminder for myself about something that I had realized some time back, but had forgotten recently. I did face a lull in my reading and writing time recently. When I look back, I believe one of the reasons behind that was the fact that I was waiting for that right space” to work on my thoughts. One that never arrived. I need to stop waiting and spend more time doing stuff than to think whether the moment or the place or the environment or even the words are right. Andy Warhol has put it so perfectly.

Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.

Discussing Social Networks, Again

Another week, another discussion on the state of social networks on TWiT network. This time it took place on the latest episode of This week in Google . The discussion went on and on about how Google Plus was great. And how other social networks have ruined what made them the best in the first place — the posts from the real people and the social aspect around them — in their quest to monetize by jacking up the engagement”.

Such discussions happen very often these days. Eventually, they turn towards the alternatives that exists, but always take a long trodden path.

Facebook is hated by everyone but is ubiquitous, too big. Twitter is loved by no one but stays relevant in discourse. IndieWeb is dull, abstruce. Federated services are great, but no one can get them working. Instagram’s the lone messiah, but Mark’s working hard to ruin it.”

Finally, the original point on the available alternatives is all but left untouched. I am left frustrated every time by this sheer defeatism, this complete lack of attempt to try earnestly to understand and comment on the alternatives. What all alternatives have you tried? Were there none that were good? If so, why? What is missing? How can they be made better? What is it that you are looking for in a social network?

Mike Elgan had this comment on the recent episode of TWiG.

I would love a social network that had basically two rules. One is no algorithmic sorting or filtering, when I follow somebody I want everything they post. Second thing is I don’t want to get any content that isn’t the actual words or photos taken my the person I follow. No sharing, no retweeting.

I thought great, I know of one that meets these two rules. May be they will recommend it. Or comment on why it is lacking. Nah. Nothing. The topic ended there. I am perplexed at why Micro.blog isn’t referenced more often during these discussions on social networks. Sure, it may not be perfect. So go ahead, criticize it. Tell the makers of the service why they can’t use it. But do talk.

And micro.blog isn’t the only one. There’s Mastodon. And then there are the independent blogging solutions and RSS. Generate some buzz for them. You are not helping the situation by cribbing incessantly about the unending missteps of the existing services. Put these same old rants to rest now and crib about the new services. At least, the normal users would know there exist other alternatives and the developers would know what they need to work on.

Selecting and Reading Books

I keep mentioning every time I get a chance that I am too picky while selecting the books I read. So it was fascinating to read few suggestions from Austin Kleon on how to read more. Especially his first tip - quit reading books you don’t like

It helps if you choose the right books in the first place. Stop reading what you think you should be reading and just read what you genuinely want to read.

Yep, I follow this rule diligently. And I have my own list of gems” that just aren’t for me.

I also keep my currently reading list loaded with multiple books at a time. Some are as audiobooks, some as e-books. (It’s been very long since I read a paperback and it was primarily because I just don’t enjoy them.)

Feel free to read promiscuously — date 3 or 4 books at the same time until one makes you want to settle down with it.

I do that, but not for the reason Austin mentions. I just like to hop between books at times. Many a times before I give up on one.

I really liked these quotes that Austin has included in his post. Ah, I think I need to read a lot more.

Nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read.

—Nancy Pearl

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

—Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Decluttering my mind

I am currently on a break - I do not have any official work time as such. So this is an opportunity for rethinking things, declutter the stuff around the day-to-day life. I plan to identify what matters to me the most, what I enjoy doing the most. And then only sign-up for that. I have realized there is no point over-complicating too many things with whys and hows, and especially why-nots. It’s better to just do the thing that my mind wants to do without fussing over the right moment or the perfect way. Neither ever arrive.

So I will do anything that I want to do. But to that everything that I am not into, but my brain says I should do - nah. Not happening. This has already ruled some of the projects from my list, mostly dev ones, which I had signed up for just because everyone I come across was doing them. Or so I thought.

Then there are those projects which I want to do, but just don’t have an idea yet about how and when. One such project is my microcast Third-Person Voice. I am pulling it down. I enjoyed the experience, but I need to rethink whether it fits in my life currently.

This signing up and sprinting in all directions had affected what I’ve genuinely enjoyed for the longest time - reading and writing. The hope behind all this decluttering, this tidying up of mind space, is that I can focus again on just the stuff I want to do the most.

In an article on how Instagram travel influencers” are affecting homeownership around the world is hidden a very unfortunate truth.

Today everything exists to end in a photograph (…) the most influential factor in determining where to vacation is how Instagrammable” the destination is.

This sad fact holds even for non-influencer, normal tourists. Every time I tour, I see loads and loads of people fighting for a spot, the same, crowded space that everyone around is taking pictures at. I have seen people put their backs to the most wonderful of the valleys and mountains and beaches just so that they would catch themselves and the serenity in the same picture. Doesn’t matter then if it looks equally serene just few feet away from the instagrammable” spot.

Influencers who come into a community to get something, and who refuse to acknowledge or be curious about the people who make it up—or, worse, who consider those people obstacles—are refusing to participate in the best part of travel: Appreciating what, or who, makes a place different from any other.

I could not say it better. All tourists need to respect the location and the people that dwell there. That picture-worthy spot you are on look out for is a home for many.

Adding On This Day feature to Blot

Recently David Merfield, the developer behind Blot, documented the steps to expose a JSON feed on a Blot site. I have been running a JSON feed for my blog for quite some time now, with some valuable help from David of course. It is this feed that drives the On This Day page on this blog. I thought I will share my approach so that others with a blog running on Blot can create such a page.

To begin with, follow the guide to get a working JSON feed for your blog. Validate you have a properly formed and accessible feed being served using the JSON feed validator.

One key thing to understand here is how to create a view in Blot. It would be important to be aware of this step to proceed further. A view can be created in Blot by accessing the editing template section (Settings > Template) in Blot dashboard. Click on Edit against your currently installed theme and search for an option Create new view.

Once the JSON feed is available, create a view in Blot for a javascript file. Copy the complete content of the javascript available as a gist* and add them to this new view. Modify the json_feed_url and tz variables appropriately to reflect the URL for the JSON feed and the timezone for your blog, you can refer to the formats in TZ database time zones. This script does the following.

  1. Fetches all the posts as JSON objects from the JSON feed
  2. Identifies the posts that share the same date and month as the current date (but not the year to avoid loading today’s posts)
  3. Renders the posts (or no posts message) in the predefined section detailed below. This also includes some styling via the .className definition, you can remove/modify that as per your liking in fuction renderPost.

Make sure the above created view is accessible at a URL. If not, define a route in the Settings section of the view.

Next, create another view for a page to display these posts; a reference html page is available as a gist. Modify the src in <script src="/flashback.js"></script> to reflects the URL for the javascript created above. The script adds and renders the posts made on this day in earlier years in the div element with id on-this-day.

Do give this a try, it is fascinating to see your thoughts change, or at times stay exactly the same, over the year. Reach out to me if you face any issues or find any step missing.

TL;DR: Expose a JSON feed on your site. Create two views in Blot using the gist flashback.js and on-this-day.html. You should have two additional pages, you can use the same file names. If you do, you can access your On This Day page at /on-this-day.

* This javascript is inspired by and based on the wonderful project Micro Memories by Jonathan LaCour for the micro.blog hosted blogs. I have customized and simplified it as per my needs.

Why CAPTCHAs have gotten so difficult

So apparently we, humans, are struggling to prove ourselves as human now - The Verge reports.

Figuring out how to fix those blurry image quizzes quickly takes you into philosophical territory: what is the universal human quality that can be demonstrated to a machine, but that no machine can mimic? What is it to be human?

I am sorry, but we are taking the literal definition of CAPTCHA - Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart - too seriously. It is a good enough system to filter out attacks from majority of the bad actors not so strong both technically and financially. Sure, there would come a day when the AI systems to beat these complicated CAPTHAs would become extremely cheap — might be even sold pay-per-use.

But when that happens, we better be ready with something that can replace this old system of identifying humans online. Authenticating and authorizing an identity online should be made a priority project at all the technology leaders.

I attempted to watch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch today. Netflix managed to solve a lot many technical challenges — it is a well-done interactive film. I think first of its kind. But boy, did it suck as a film. The format just did not click for me — the film worked neither as a science fiction nor as a horror.

To be frank, I am a bit disappointed in this genre of films. There has been so much talk about these choose-your-own-adventure or multiple endings movies/shows. But I find the whole concept a bit distracting. Every time, I was made to choose any aspect playing on the screen, I was pulled out of the flow of the movie. I doubt this interactive form will work for many.

Call me old school. But I want to be driven, I want to view the story from the director’s perspective. I like to see what he or she wants to show me, keeping my mind completely open. I do not want to play a game while I am watching a movie. Because if I do want to, well, I will play a game in the first place.

Sure, this was a good experiment to explore this concept of letting viewers drive the narrative of the film. And although I question its feasibility, I also believe this is just a start. There’s soon going to be lot many such experiments with VR too. Whatever the makers believe, I am sure I would hate that form.

I wish makers spend their efforts on the story, on the screenplay, on all the other aspects that make a movie brilliant. I will any day choose a linear, single ending drama or a thriller that a director has complete control over than a broken, nonsensical story that I can control every aspect of.

Bhai: Vyakti Ki Valli - Celebration of a life

I recently watched Bhai: Vyakti Ki Valli, a movie I was very eagerly waiting for quite some time now. It is a biopic of a person that I adore, an iconic Marathi writer and a humorist, a brilliant theater artist and an adept musician, a person who inspired me to start writing. That person is Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, lovingly called Pu. La.” or Bhai” in the region I am from.

Narrating the life of this towering personality is not a small feat given the sheer number of stream of art he was passionate about. He is a well-known and a well-respected person amongst Maharashtrians of all age. It is through his writing, through the careful study of human nature around him that he taught many what the real happiness is. So it is only just that I was so curious to learn more about this master, through especially the first of this two-part biopic that focuses on his early life.

It was wonderful to know more about this simple person and was refreshing to see the Maharashtra of early 1900. In a way, I thought the people, the society that Bhai dwelt in was a lot more liberal, more open than what we see today. It was pleasing to watch the strong women with definite opinions, the simple marriage or even the relationship that Bhai’s wife and his mother share. The finale with a mind-blowing rendition of Hindustani classical music through a couple of well-known songs was sheer magic on screen - left me with goose bumps down my arms. It is Marathi culture on display. It instantly transported me back to my childhood days when these songs were our morning alarms. Boy, how much do I yearn for the simple life of yesteryears?

No doubt then that it was a brilliant watch for me, and my family. Even my friends share my experience. But all of us already know a lot about the person and the people around him. The list of characters, from the real-life like Bhimsen Joshi or Kumar Gandarva and from Bhai’s imagination like Anna or Namu Parit, that walk the screen are well itched in us Marathi people’s memories. But that may not be the case for people not from this state.

I wish this movie was an equally well-made biography, not just a celebration of the life of this beloved man. I wish the characters were allowed to grow, introduced at the very least. I wish we learned more about the relationship Bhai shared with these characters. I wish this could have been that one movie I would recommend every friend of mine to watch so that they knew what gem of a person Pu. La. was. But, alas.

First thing I did once I was back from the theater was to listen to couple of Pu. La.’s story-telling acts. It was heart-warming for me to see many aged couples who could barely walk taking all the effort to come down to the theater with their family and laughing their hearts out. May be they had spent their golden years together watching Bhai live and now they want to re-live those days. So yes, the movie did leave many, including me, nostalgic. May be that was the win the makers were going for.

Diary and Journals

Derek Sivers wrote a wonderful piece on the benefits he has realized via his diaries and journals. He talks about why he likes keeping his daily diary.

We so often make big decisions in life based on predictions of how we think we’ll feel in the future, or what we’ll want. Your past self is your best indicator of how you actually felt in similar situations. So it helps to have an accurate picture of your past.

It was especially fascinating looking at the list of topics he keeps a journal about. A great, great inspiration for any one looking out for what to journal about. He puts down a prime example.

I especially like my Regrets” journal. Whenever I do something I regret, I write it down there, noting why I regret it, what I wish I would have done instead, and how I hope to prevent this in the future.

Derek has given me so much to ponder on. I have bookmarked this, I may reference this every time I question my resolve to journal more. Even outside of a journal, I think this is a great suggestion to write everything.

Ask yourself questions, then question your answers.

To be frank, it was when I read his account that I got to know that diary and journal are not the same. Apparently, diary is for an account of one’s daily activities while journal is for more comprehensive thoughts on specific topics. Some may say that’s minutiae, but it’s good to know.

On this day, a year ago

Around a year ago, I got enthralled by the IndieWeb principles and started experimenting with them on my website. Exactly a year ago today, I had started contributing on the Micro.blog platform. And it has been a very productive year writing-wise since then.

I have expressed myself a lot more in the past year. I have thought a lot clearer, a lot better as a result. It is all thanks to the wonderful interactions on the platform.

What it also means is that I have a year worth of posts to look back upon. And I thought what better way to do so than getting the On This Day page added to my blog. I have done that. It presents how the journey started - if nothing else I myself can follow the thoughts along as they evolved.

Will it stick in this same form? May be not. I may experiment a bit on how I see this feature. But I have got the base working now for my blot-based blog.

PS: This feature is based on the wonderful project Micro Memories by Jonathan LaCour for the micro.blog hosted blogs. I have just customized and simplified it as per my needs.

Reflecting on the last 10 years

I recently came across the #10YearChallenge that was all the rage among the netizens. And, as is often the case with the memes on social media, it made no sense to me at all. Of course, how you look would change drastically over the decade. What’s so special about that?

But as he very often does, Sameer Vasta caught the spirit of the challenge perfectly. He posted an account of how his life and the world around has changed in the last decade. It’s a must read (and while you are there, may be you should also subscribe to his wonderful blog). His post inspired me to #retrospect on how the last decade has been for me.

I hit my archives right away to see what I was thinking about, was writing about a decade ago. I was in my early to mid twenties then and I had a guess I was busy being a crazy teen. I noticed I was writing my heart out, not thinking too seriously about anything. I wrote very poorly, but at the same time, freely. The immaturity in my thoughts and in my reading of the events around is pretty apparent in the posts.

However, I also came across this post about ambitions that I wrote in January of 2009. This observation of mine caught my attention (I couldn’t stop myself from fixing the prose to some extent).

If an ardent desire is what an ambition is all about, then yes, I must have had hundreds of ambitions by now. And the list has possibly grown to a thousands now with passing age. With each ambition I achieve, I have added a few more in the list. I know and still remember the whole gyan that a life lived without an ambition is like an arrow fired without an aim. But practically speaking, I feel it is impossible to lay the path for one’s whole life right at his or her birth.

It doesn’t matter how immature I sounded in most of the posts, one thing I appreciate about the decade-younger me was how free he was. He had a lot more to say and often said it in a manner that even the older, supposedly more mature me can’t disagree with.

I have held a lot of ardent desires, ambitions - some that have been fulfilled, many that haven’t been yet. But deep within, I had hoped that I will someday live a calm, peaceful life. Live amongst my loved ones. Gain respect in society, among colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

As I reflect today on an important decade gone by, I realize I have managed to work towards that ambition through many tricky, life-altering decisions. I am closer to my loved ones than I was a decade ago. I have married the love of my life. We are blessed with a lovely daughter who has become the center of our universe. Professionally, I have better clarity on where I want to be. I have found a circle of friends I can rely on during times of stress.

Sure the world around looks to be in shambles. There’s a definite lack of trust for the democratic structures, lack of trust between one another. The past few years have heightened the noise in our lives. No wonder then, people are losing faith. So it is tempting to give up to the pessimism around and stay grumpy.

But I also realized it was healthier to reflect inwards and seek optimism by working on things I can control. So, the fidgety teen from 10 years back has given way to the calmer, saner, thoughtful self of today. I feel content within and that is the most important thing.

Satisfaction. Yes, even the #10Year younger me would have, with pleasure, chosen that as an ambition.

I love email, more than ever

Martin Weigert talks pretty openly about his love for emails.

Over the years, one frequent type of blog post published by tech heavyweights laments their struggle with managing their emails, often ending in death wishes for this technology.

I however want email to live, to thrive, and to be eternal. Not only because I publish weekly email newsletters (ok, that makes me biased), but also because email offers a huge benefit to every person on this planet with a comparatively little downside for them individually and for society at large.

A couple of points we just can’t overlook while talking about emails.

  • They have wasted (and continue to do so) countless productive hours cumulatively of the human race.
  • It remains the only open form that is not walled by any one company’s interests; a form that allows communication that is cross-platform, irrespective of who the sender and receivers are and what service or tool they use.

Do I love email? Nope. However, do I hate email, wish death for the form of communication? Absolutely, positively not.

The Lone Conductor [#4]

Introducing Tikwadi, a town of fools; a town where the creatures that dwell are busy sucking at everything they do. Two such creatures ride a bus together to get a new adventures going.

Switching to Windows

I have finally given up on the hope that Apple will fix their Macbook lineup and have decided to switch to Windows. It was a long time coming, and the decision wasn’t an easy one. But what Apple offers, especially in Indian market, isn’t worth the price. The lineup from its competitors doesn’t allow them and their users to justify their crazy costs. They need a cheaper, better alternative to compete. They needed to replace Air, not launch a new range. They have now failed to do it for 3 years. And I can wait no longer.

Will Apple’s devices be more durable? Sure. Does it justify to pay, for an entry-level Air, twice the cost of a fully loaded Dell? Absolutely not.

So I have got a Dell now. I am not really worried about the switch to Windows 10 — I do use it in office. I had also analysed my software usage, and except for Markdown writers, there’s nothing software-wise that I will miss. My primary need, other than writing, is coding and Microsoft has me covered with VS Code and WSL. Sure, I will miss Terminal, but I think I will manage without it.

I am, however, a bit worried about the out-of-box experience, given OEMs are known for screwing Microsoft up with their customisations. Not sure if there are any must-dos and must-haves on a new Windows device. I will look out for any input I can gather. Overall, I guess I would do fine.

Of course, I will hold my judgement till I use the device regularly and extensively. My current Macbook Pro has served me well. I wish Apple hadn’t forced me with their utter lack of inclination to improve their entry-level offerings. They won’t grow into developing markets unless they stop selling the same old story.

Social Networks won't fade away

Irrespective of what the popular belief is, the need for social networks is not going away — more so amongst those who are not technology oriented. Sure, some particular services that exist today may die down. But the medium won’t.

Just look at the history of the social media structures on the Internet. There has always existed a network of some form where every person that was connected could hang out. The initial users that adopted the digital life were techies, so their solutions were comparatively tech-savvy. I remember I have spent hours discussing and debating with my friends on IRC channels and on email groups and on XMPP-based IM clients.

I believe even in the world where not everybody and everything was connected, there existed mediums to communicate, to interact, to share. They might have been analog, or of forms that needed one to be in the presence of others. But they existed nonetheless.

In today’s age of smartphones, it’s become a lot simpler to get online and be connected” with others. As a result, there are more people, more common non-techies, who are always on the look out for simpler ways to share their thoughts once they get online and stay in touch with others. They will sign-up with any service that promises them that. And they did.

Sure, the proponents of the open internet, myself included, dislike the current social networking behemoths - Facebook, and Twitter. But I think it is important to not let the disdain for these specific platforms turn into a complete rejection of the medium itself. There will always exist some structure that can facilitate communication in the form of text, images and other share-worthy stuff. The state became dire when we let a set of private entities wall this structure in their silos.

No doubt, Facebook and Twitter are in decline today. But the terrible scenario can recur if the common, but rising set of connected users is not provided with more open, more interoperable alternatives that are equally engaging and simple to use. And do so before other silos take over the medium again.

I know of the services that already meet the open and interoperable” characteristic. But the majority contenders reek of by-the-techies-for-the-techies” fervour. So there’s still a long way to go to meet the engaging and simple” part — the one closest is Micro.blog. I believe there exists a group of brilliant minds that understands the importance of addressing this. It is incumbent upon this group to work towards that.

Discuss on Micro.blog

I have recently been thinking a lot about making it easier for people to interact on my posts. The commenting systems of yesteryears served well till they were completely ruined by spams and unnecessary hurdles around setting them up and managing them.

Since I embraced the IndieWeb, I realised that webmentions can potentially address this need. One primary reason that I believe they can fare better than the existing commenting system is the required skills barrier to get started.

But I was afraid that the same barrier to entry” would also mean not everyone could comment on my posts. It could potentially limit the audience, especially one that interacts, to the developer niche that understands IndieWeb. But I was pleased that wasn’t the case. More on why later, first a quick comment on comments.

I am not alone who is fed up of the commenting systems. Dave Winer has since long turned off the responses on his posts. And in recent times he also has been particularly unhappy with Disqus, his selected replacement to the in-built responses. So, he found out his way to enable a commenting mechanism that did not need constant managing. Plus at the same time, had an entry barrier of sorts. He now uses Twitter reposts for comments.

Use the [retweet] feature here on Scripting News more. It’s a way to comment on what’s going on here, without using Disqus.

Sure, it meets the need. You need not manage a separate commenting system. You can follow tweets on Twitter - they are closer to post on Twitter. And Dave publishes RSS feed of all the comments. So he, and the readers, can receive all the comments.

For me personally though, this does not meet the one main criteria - it keeps the responses away from the posts, hence from the context. And inadvertently from the readers too. There’s no way then to inspire any inclination amongst readers to contribute and be part of an ongoing conversation on the post.

So, back to webmentions. I can display mentions along with my post (and with this recent guide I had written, you can too) and that means any reader at my blog is aware of the sort of discussion that’s taking place over the post. If you see my recent posts, they have significant interactions between multiple people.

But where is this discussion taking place? And how can one be part of it? It’s primarily all happening on micro.blog. The platform fosters a pleasant community of many creative and open minds. It also encourages meaningful conversations over mindless reactions. And Manton, the mind behind Micro.blog, is a firm proponent of the open web.

I wish more people become part of the platform - better, support the platform by subscribing to the paid plans. And one of the ways I thought I can advertise the platform and bring it to the attention of many is by prominently displaying it along with posts. So, now for every posts on this blog with conversations at micro.blog, there will be a clear Discuss on Micro.blog” link that takes you directly to the conversation thread (example). You want to comment? Please join Micro.blog.”

Discuss on M.b

That would, in addition, be a nudge to post a longer response on one’s own website.

My hope is this will exhibit the biggest asset of the micro.blog platform, it’s community, in context and as a result, inspire more people to join with a ready-to-access link to the place where the conversation is taking place. If a significant section of the platform users, one that can, starts to display the conversations (webmentions) and starts to include such links, we should soon have an extremely diverse set of users joining the platform.

A Warm Adieu, 2018

2018, for me, was a year of many firsts. To be frank, I was uncharacteristically active overall — so much so that I startled myself at multiple times throughout the year with the liveliness. I possessed heaps of clarity in terms of what I was working on, both within and outside of the profession.

Sure, if I look outward, 2018 has left the world in complete disarray. There is chaos, unclarity all around. There is an inconspicuous tension building up in every part of the world. A lack of trust, faith in one another. In humanity.

2018 may very well be remembered as the year when the word true” lost all its meaning. A fight to drum up the perception that my truth is the only truth made one insensitive of everything that was being said by anyone.

And it did get tiring. As Scaachi Koul rightly said, 2018 wore us all the hell out” (h/t Sameer Vasta). I empathise with her when she says

I am usually energized by arguing, by getting aggressive, by putting a name or a face to an enemy, online or otherwise. Not this year.

But then I have decided to remember 2018 for the goods it brought me personally.

I expressed. Kept churning up more longer posts and lots and lots of shorter microposts.

I captured. Snapped a significant part of my life as pictures. Posted them, shared them more.

I learnt. Understood. And got enamoured by IndieWeb.

I developed. Worked on so many new projects - many found useful even by few others.

I experimented. Recorded a first podcast episode. Started a new individual podcast.

Unlike me, I gave up a lot lesser in 2018. Almost everything I noticed above was taken to completion.

And most importantly, I lived. Quality time with people closest to me. Family reunions. Getaways. Holidays. Making new friends, in real and digital life.

Yep. I will remember 2018 as a year of being satisfied. And being alive. It is only fair to welcome 2019 with a clean, untidy slate.

Displaying Webmentions with Posts

I have been using Blot, a simple blogging platform with no interface, for quite some time now for running my blog. I am not alone when I say this, but am mighty impressed with how simple it is to post things on blot and maintain the overall site. They are just some files in Dropbox - that’s about it. So, it was pretty straightforward to customise the theme to my liking and to enable the support for IndieWeb principles.

Post Notes

One thing I have noticed, though, is that most of the IndieWeb principles are not visible. They enable a more open web, providing sites a grammar they can talk to one another with. But for someone who owns the website or even someone who reads the posts on a website, whatever changes go in just aren’t apparent. Except, of course, for webmentions.

I have already detailed the steps to Indiewebify one’s website (specifically one built with Hugo). I did not go into the details of setting up webmentions. And that is exactly what I get asked the most about - how does one display mentions along with the posts.

The need is more evident with microblogging - and especially so with micro.blog. The platform fosters a very active and pleasant community focused more on the interactions (replies) than meaningless reactions (likes, reposts). It also sends webmentions for every reply to a post to the sites that can receive them. So the desire to display the interactions along with the posts, microposts more so, is understandable.

In this post, I will (finally!) document the steps that can help one receive, fetch and display the webmentions along with the posts. The steps are documented from a reference of a blot website. However, the steps below can be altered at appropriate places, primarily formats, to implement the support for any other platform.

Essential Indieweb

Before you can start receiving the webmentions at your site, there is an essential step from IndieWeb to be achieved - to make your website your identity online. It involves declaring openly your social network profiles as rel-me links and link those profiles back to your site. This allows you to login to any IndieAuth enabled services using your website’s homepage - no need to create an account or maintain passwords.

To achieve this, modify the head.html of the site’s theme to add such links to your other online profiles in <head> element. These profiles can be on Twitter, Github, Facebook, or even email - anything where you can link back to your website from. Some reference links are shown below.

<link rel="me" href="https://twitter.com/abcxyz" />
<link rel="me" href="http://github.com/abcxyz" />
<link rel="me" href="mailto:abcxyz@example.com" />

After you declare your website with either Twitter or Github, they can authenticate your identity. With email, a link is sent to the configured email address to do the same, very much like any email-based two-factor authentication.

You also need to declare the service which will act as an authorization endpoint when needed. This is used by other services, mostly IndieAuth clients, to validate your identity. To configure this, just add the below link to your site’s head.

<link rel="authorization_endpoint" href="https://indieauth.com/auth">

Once you have this enabled, you can test your setup using Indiewebify.Me. Test the “Set up Web Sign In” section.

You are now ready to receive the webmentions from other sites, including Micro.blog.

Receive Webmentions

This primarily involves hosting and declaring a webmention endpoint. Of course, the active IndieWeb community already has a ready solution for this - webmention.io by Aaron Parecki. It is “a hosted service created to easily handle webmentions”. All you have to do is sign-in with your domain (i.e. validate your identity) and let Webmention.io receive all mentions to your site. Once that’s done, just declare the webmention endpoint as below in your site’s head.

<link rel="webmention" href="https://webmention.io/username/webmention" />

The username is typically the url of your site (you can also find these details on the settings page). To test this setup, login to webmentions.io dashboard and you should start seeing the mentions sent to your site (which includes the replies on Micro.blog.

Display Webmentions

Webmention.io also provides APIs for you to fetch the webmentions to your posts/site. You can implement a custom solution using Javascript for fetching and displaying these mentions along with posts. Below is one of the ways this can be achieved. It specifically pulls the likes, reposts and replies and puts them below the posts. The code might look a bit untidy, but it would be easier to follow what’s going on. You can improve over this eventually.

To start with, declare a placeholder for the webmentions. Place the below div element in your entry.html file between {{#entry}} and {{/entry}} - preferably towards the end of the file, just above {{/entry}}.

<div class="post-mentions" id="post-mentions" style="display:none">
  <ul class="mentions-list" id="mentions-list">

Of course, you could replace the unordered list ul element with anything else. This is just one of the ways you can do it.

Next, you need to fill this div element with the mentions the entry has received. You can use the javascript snippet available at this gist to fetch and display the webmentions along with the post. Just place the complete code available there at the end of script.js file of your blot’s theme. So it would look something like below (note that this is an incomplete snapshot).

var post_url = window.location.href; 
    $.getJSON("https://webmention.io/api/mentions?jsonp=?", { target: post_url }, 
    function(data){ ... ... 

Make sure the first {{{appJS}}} line is not removed. This import makes sure the additional javascripts necessary for some specific features provided by Blot - for example jQuery for image zoom, Google Analytics etc. - are imported.

The above javascript snippet does below.

  1. Gets the current post url and fetches the webmentions for that url from Webmention.io.
  2. Divides and groups the mentions by the activity type (like, repost, link, reply). This is so that you can control how each activity-type is styled.
  3. Finally, populates these mentions into the above-created placeholder div element.

At this point, you should start seeing the webmentions along with the posts once the above-mentioned steps are carried out.

In case, the webmentions are available on the webmentions.io dashboard, but aren’t getting loaded on the post, one possible root cause is failure of jQuery import. Declare a jQuery import explicitly in head.html by adding below statement within the head tags.

<script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/3.2.1/jquery.min.js"> </script>

You will also note that all the html elements in the javascript code are tagged with class attribute. This allows you to control the style of the elements as per your liking. Just modify the main css file for your theme (typically style.css) to add styling for these classes.

For reference, find below a sample styling for the main post-mention class.

.post-mentions {
  padding-top: 15px; 
  margin-top: 10px; 
  border-top: 1px solid #AEADAD; 
  border-bottom: 1px solid #AEADAD; 
  font-size: 16px; 

.post-mentions ul { 
  margin-left: 0; 

Similarly, you can also style the mention, mention-author, mention-social and mention-text classes.

Interactions from Social Media

Though references to your posts from IndieWeb sites are handled, what about the references made on Twitter or Facebook? It can be in any form of response (i.e. likes/retweets/reposts) to the syndicated post. Of course, they do not send webmentions (wish they did).

One option is to implement your own backfeed to poll for such interactions and handle them as response. Well, the community has made sure there is a simpler hosted option. Enter Bridgy.

Bridgy is an open source project and proxy that implements backfeed and POSSE as a service. Bridgy sends webmentions for comments, likes, etc. on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Flickr.

Just connect your social accounts with your website at Bridgy and every time there is an interaction about your post on a service, Bridgy captures that and sends a webmention to your endpoint configured earlier.

I understand that the IndieWeb journey can get overwhelming. Webmentions are a critical part of this journey and, as I said earlier, one of the more prominent pieces of the overall puzzle. I have never been comfortable using any of the commenting systems, be it those that come native with the CMSes or external commenting systems like Disqus. I have also observed that the new platforms, like Blot or Micro.blog, rarely come bundled with commenting systems of their own.

Webmention has a potential to address that need. I hope the steps detailed above come in handy for anyone who wants to display webmentions on his or her site right next to the posts. The source for the theme that styles my blog at Blot is openly available at GitHub. So, if you like anything that you see at my blog, you can refer to the source and get inspired.

Do let me know if you face issues with getting any of steps carried out. If you don’t face any issue and get everything working perfectly, send me a webmention — the best way would be to link to this post. If all’s well, your links would be visible below this post as mentions.

Marvelling at Life [#3]

A tale of two grumpy, old souls. And of forming of one unexpected bond, via one unlikely source. A tale of spreading love.

The Rise and Demise of RSS

This is such fascinating write up by Sinclair Target on history behind the challenges RSS has faced over the years. And also why it just never managed to succeed — even though it had the backing of all the major publishers, at least everyone adopted and served it.

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds. They also provide more benefits to the companies that own them.

RSS isn’t dead, yet. It still serves all the podcasts feeds, and there are a large number of users, including me, for whom it is the only source of any timeline of sort. But the fact cannot be denied that it does not draw any attention from big technology companies. With Firefox too recently dropping the built-in feed support, it became clear everyone wants the standard to exists but no one wants to work on improving and maintaining it. Wish it did not stagnate.

RSS might have been able to overcome some of these limitations if it had been further developed. Maybe RSS could have been extended somehow so that friends subscribed to the same channel could syndicate their thoughts about an article to each other. Maybe browser support could have been improved. But whereas a company like Facebook was able to move fast and break things,” the RSS developer community was stuck trying to achieve consensus. When they failed to agree on a single standard, effort that could have gone into improving RSS was instead squandered on duplicating work that had already been done.

I believe that is the story of how standards proliferate. But I just hope more people realize the importance of the RSS standard for the existence of open web and work on evangelizing and advance it.

If we stay dependent on technology companies to back it, we will always end-up with siloed timelines. For them, achieving consensus and coexisting with other players is costlier. It is cheaper to foster user engagement in a walled platforms controlled centrally by the owners. Companies will always go with the cheaper options.

A Walk to Remember [#2]

For them, the walk was supposed to be about finding something that was lost. He, however, had a hidden agenda of his own — that of finding “someone”.

Best Day of My Life [#1]

He anticipates this to be the best day of his life. He wants to relive this same day repeatedly. She believes she can help him. Or just herself.

Introducing Third-Person Voice [#0]

Introducing Third-Person Voice - a weekly microcast, featuring short stories penned and narrated by me. This is a teaser, episode 0 if I may, of what’s to come.

How a Month without Computers Changed Me

This is such a fascinating read — so detailed on how Andrey Sitnik planned for and went through this arduous experiment.

Then I asked myself if technological fasting’ could do one good in modern society. Technology has changed the world in the blink of an eye, leaving us no time to reflect on it. What if a month without modern technology could travel’ you to the past? What if there is a way you could compare your technology-relying self to what you once were?

It is really curious to read how the analogue tools — for his camera, his watch, a map, a compass and of course a notepad and a pen - were key in taking him through. Of course, it needs planning to keep your brain busy without a stream of digital updates and reads to chomp on. To keep feeding it with activities.

Boredom was the thing that scared me the most, so I did a lot of preparation: took a few thick books, drew up a schedule (when I leave one place for another) and made up several evening rituals to follow every day. The internet-less reality turned out to be a boredom-less one, too. Recreation does not require anything special—in the end, you can always go out and hunt for good photos.

I wish I could undertake such an abstinence from the technology around me. Not because I hate my current state (doesn’t mean I do not even). But because I wish I too could arrive at a conclusion very similar to Andrey’s.

I came to the conclusion that IT hadn’t changed the world around, but created another, a parallel one. The reason we are always nervous and never have enough time is that we are living two lives now. It’s without a doubt difficult, yet how interesting it is to be living two times as much!

Do read this — even though we know most deep down the ills of our constant connectedness, it is eye-opening to read someone record his experiences. If possible, we should take Andrey’s advice. I, for sure, am seriously considering it.

I would not recommend digital fasting to everyone, but a temporary abstinence of some sort seems a very right thing to do